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Sediment-encased maturation: a novel method for simulating diagenesis in organic fossil preservation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)135-150
Number of pages16
JournalPalaeontology
Volume62
Issue number1
Early online date25 Jul 2018
DOIs
DateAccepted/In press - 4 Jun 2018
DateE-pub ahead of print - 25 Jul 2018
DatePublished (current) - 1 Jan 2019

Abstract

Exceptional fossils can preserve diagenetically-altered biomolecules. Understanding the pathways that lead to such preservation is vital to utilizing fossil information in evolutionary and palaeoecological studies. Experimental taphonomy explores the stability of tissues during microbial/autolytic decay or their molecular stability through maturation under high pressure and temperature. Maturation experiments often take place inside sealed containers, preventing the loss of labile, mobile or volatile molecules. However, wrapping tissues inside aluminium foil, for example, can create too open a system, leading to loss of both labile and recalcitrant materials. We present a novel experimental procedure for maturing tissues under elevated pressure/temperature inside compacted sediment. In this procedure, porous sediment allows maturation breakdown products to escape into the sediment and maturation chamber, while recalcitrant, immobile components are contained, more closely mimicking the natural conditions of fossilization. To test the efficacy of this procedure in simulating fossil diagenesis, we investigate the differential survival of melanosomes relative to proteinaceous tissues through maturation of fresh lizard body parts and feathers. Macro- and ultrastructures are then compared to fossils. Similar to many carbonaceous exceptional fossils, the resulting organic components are thin, dark films composed mainly of exposed melanosomes resting on the sediment in association with darkened bones. Keratinous, muscle, collagenous and adipose tissues appear to be lost. Such results are consistent with predictions derived from non-sediment-encased maturation experiments and our understanding of biomolecular stability. These experiments also suggest that organic preservation is largely driven by the original molecular composition of the tissue and the diagenetic stability of those molecules, rather than the tissue's decay resistance alone; this should be experimentally explored in the future.

    Research areas

  • diagenesis, fossils, maturation, melanosomes, protein, taphonomy

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  • Full-text PDF (accepted author manuscript)

    Rights statement: This is the accepted author manuscript (AAM). The final published version (version of record) is available online via Wiley at https://doi.org/10.1111/pala.12386 . Please refer to any applicable terms of use of the publisher.

    Accepted author manuscript, 75 MB, PDF document

    Licence: Other

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